Last week, a Philadelphia drag performer made history, or shall I say “HERstory.” Sapphira Cristál became the first queen to represent Philadelphia’s drag scene with her debut as a contestant on the season 16 premiere of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” on Jan. 5.
Whether you were at Sapphira’s viewing party at Brooklyn Bowl, watching the premiere at one of the Gayborhood bars, or casually scrolling through social media, it was a joyous time to be a Philadelphian. As Zach Wilcha tweeted shortly after the premiere, “Sapphira Cristal…oh we WILL be greasing the poles in the Philly Gayborhood.”
Sapphira quickly showed audiences that she was the one to watch this season as she won both the mini and maxi challenges in the first episode. The queen showed her range as she performed “O mio babbino caro” from Giacomo Puccini’s 1918 opera “Gianni Schicchi” while displaying her sense of humor during interactions with RuPaul (During the number, she jokingly referred to RuPaul as her father while pointing to the host as she sang. At the end of the performance, RuPaul asked “Why were you pointing at me when you said, ‘My beloved father’?” And Sapphira quipped with “You know why.”)
The Philly queen further displayed her comedic side during her lip sync performance against fellow contestant Q to Beyoncé’s song, ““Break My Soul.” At some point during the number, Sapphira’s breast plate fell off and she bounced her fake breasts up and down on the stage. Instantly iconic.
Over the weekend, audiences were quick to show support with fan art and general words of support and encouragement. Even “Drag Race” royalty Trixie Mattel and Jimbo showed their love for the new contestant during the after show, “The Pit Stop.” The duo humorously spun around in their chairs when they said Sapphira’s name in a dramatic fashion, something the Philly queen took notice of on social media by responding, “how can I get @trixiemattel and @jimbodragclown to introduce me like this at ever[y] show I have?”
It isn’t exactly news that things are hard across the nation, with 125 anti-trans bills getting introduced just days into 2024 and a scary presidential election coming up. But it was fun to escape reality — ironically — through reality TV. And it’ll be amazing to see Sapphira’s journey throughout the season. It remains to be seen how far Sapphira made it through season 16 (each season of “Drag Race,” with the exception of the finale and the reunion special toward the end of each season, is filmed in advance during an undisclosed timeframe) but with or without the crown, Sapphira is bringing joy to Philadelphia and beyond.